How to Create Impact With Your Information Security Report in the Boardroom

February 9, 2015
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3 min read

Groundbreaking security intelligence tools make it possible to build bridges between silos of threat and vulnerability data. One of the key features of these tools is the ability to create security dashboards and reports. However, a chief information security officer (CISO) still needs to translate data from these reports into the executive language. Though CISOs are gaining more influence in the boardroom, it may still be difficult for them to get the security message across.

Report Relevant Points

To develop an effective C-suite reporting style, it helps to get to know the executives. How much do they want to know about information security? What is their vision? For instance, if you are reporting to a director who is on a mission to cut costs, you may want to include some evidence of the financial benefits good information security has brought to your organization.

Or, if expansion is on top of the agenda, you could report on how security mechanisms help to control risks in the extended enterprise and how third-party security management is essential for global business models. If you don’t have the opportunity to interact directly with executives, it may help to build relationships with key players who do. Ask them about high-level corporate strategies and get specific information on how much detail is required in your reports.

Collaborate

Reporting together with allies from other risk areas can be beneficial. Information security is an enterprise-wide risk and is not just an information and communications technology (ICT) issue. In a combined report, summarize the top risks to the organization and argue whether they are managed adequately. Describe those risks in normal people’s language. Don’t state vague arguments such as, “The risk of a hack is high/medium/low.” Every person has a different perception of what a high or low risk is, and a “hack” is a very complex sequence of events.

For instance, if your executive is a risk-taking character in his or her business ventures and thinks a 60 percent chance to make a profit from an investment is worth the risk, he or she may also think a 19 percent probability of a data breach over the next two years is a fairly safe risk threshold. Your report should aim to make executives understand that even an event with a low probability can have disastrous consequences. Executives should be aware that a data breach does not only lead to financial losses, but also affects shareholder value, trust and reputation and may even lead to criminal charges.

Furthermore, you should not worry solely about the risk of exposing personal data. Industrial espionage through cyberchannels is also increasing: ICT, marketing, sales, product development, the legal department and so on share the trade-off between risk and the return of cyber espionage and customer data breaches. If you can demonstrate together how the risks and controls are balanced, you will make a stronger case.

Benchmark

Part of the report could be dedicated to comparing your organization against others. Demonstrate how the organization ranks within the industry in terms of information security budget, resources, incidents, resilience and knowledge. If you don’t have access to benchmarking data from your industry, consider comparing against your organization’s past. It may be possible to show trends in security intelligence reports over the months, quarters or years. You could visualize the success rate of detecting and stopping threats over time, the increased level of compliance and the finances involved. Demonstrate what security investments deliver by showing off your team’s successes.

Examples

Depending on your corporate culture, you could add an example of a recent data breach that made headlines. Your executives may wonder whether this could happen in your organization. Tell the truth without imposing a fear scenario. Explain how your organization prepares contingency plans for such crises and what is needed to cover the shortfall.

Secure Your Future

When put together, an information security report contains information about the risk position in the past, the present and the expected future balance between risks and controls, costs and benefits, threats and opportunities and strengths and weaknesses.

Once you have found your reporting style, it may need to change again. Boards are getting more involved with information security, and as a result, they will require specific information. Keep engaging with them; everyone is still learning. Future generations of leaders will possess information security knowledge as a basic skill. Until then, you need to keep supporting your current leaders to secure your future.

Nicole van Deursen
Information Security Researcher

Nicole van Deursen has worked in several industries as an information security consultant and manager. In these roles, she has managed security teams, awaren...
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